Wakabayashi Active in Labor Movement
Hope most of you are enjoying the three day weekend thanks to it being a national holiday, called Labor Day.
Labor Day was first celebrated on September 5, 1882, under the sponsorship of the Knights of Labor. The holiday is devoted to the recognition of working people’s contributions to society in both the US and Canada.
Here in Hawaii our roots in the Labor Day Holiday come primarily from one of our first labor unions, the ILWU, which struggled for many years to raise the standard of living for our plantation workers.
Many of our old time workers can vouch for the positive changes made over the years through the Labor Movement. One such person is Bettye Wakabayashi of Hilo who had spent a good part of life in the classroom.
“The first month of my teaching career my principal asked me if I was going to join the union. I said no, I don’t believe in unions, and her response to me was if the union gets a raise for the teachers, or better benefits, are you going to turn them all down and not accept them?,” Wakabayashi said.
Needless to say Wakabayashi joined the union and has become actively involved in union affairs ever since.
Today Wakabayashi is 80 years old and in great physical condition. As a former Physical Education teacher, Wakabayashi has led an extremely active life and became very conscious of the importance of a healthy diet and exercise for all ages.
As a girl Wakabayashi grew up playing many sports while riding her bike all over her home town of Sacramento, California until she graduated from high school. “I played softball, was a lifeguard, rabid snow and water skier, played basketball and badminton as well as many other activities,” she said.
“I was fortunate enough to grow up in a home where vegetables and fruits were abundant, and I grew up loving them.”
Being active as a young person and eating well led Wakabayashi to pursue a college degree in physical education while raising her own family. “My children were both in school, so I decided to go back to college to get my teacher’s degree,” she said.
Wakabayashi can also remember the early days of teaching when she was required to do much more than teach during the day. “I can remember the days when we ate lunch in the classroom, everyday, in order to supervise and teach manners to the children. I also cleaned the classroom, everyday, after the children had gone.”
“In the early days of teaching there were few benefits and the pay scale was so low that it was difficult to raise a family,” she said.
Wakabayashi became active in the Hawaii State Teachers Association and participated in two strikes.
“We have made unbelievable improvements in everything that we have fought for over the years. There have been improvements in our health benefits, pay scales and classroom controls. We have fewer children in many of the classrooms and the list goes on and on,” she said.
Wakabayashi has served in every capacity of officer that a teacher could serve, and also served on the HSTA Executive Board since she arrived in Hawaii.
And there is no slowing down this octogenarian as she continues her active involvement in the community. Last year she went to Washington D.C. as the HSTA-Retired representative to the National Education Association Convention.
Wakabayashi is also active in the HSTA-R (retired) Hawaii Chapter, an active member in the Vireya Club (Tropical Rhododendrons) and remains active in the Hawaii Island Humane Society and the Blood Bank of Hawaii.
“There are so many interesting things to be done in an organization of people that you enjoy being with and when one doesn’t have a lot of money, helping out in causes you love gives you a chance to help that cause without spending anything, except your time and effort.”
Wakabayashi also believes that you need to remain active and vigilant in order to protect the rights and benefits that you now have. “Being a retired teacher I am aware of the power the State has to take away the benefits that we have been given and I will stay active until nothing we have earned, nor what the teachers of today are earning, is in jeopardy,” she said.
To stay in shape Wakabayashi, who lives in a two story house, walks up and down her steps at least a dozen times per day. “I will also park as far away from the store and under the shadiest tree,” she said.
Once per week she will attend a hydrotherapy maintenance session at the Hilo pool to take care of some of the aches and pains associated with aging. “I have Arthritis in my spine, knees, hips, shoulders, and hands and the water therapy runs me through a series of exercises in a pool, that are much gentler on my body,” she said.
I admire Betty Wakabayashi for her role in helping fellow teachers receive and protect the benefits they now have and also for her positive attitude towards living a healthy lifestyle.
At 80 years young Wakabayashi continues to give back to our community and is one of the many thousands of hard working people in Hawaii that deserve having a holiday set aside in their honor.
Happy Labor Day everyone!
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